Ellen Potter Talks About Inspiration and Dead Brooklynites
When I was in the seventh grade I wrote a short story about an old man, a bird, and a flute. Don’t ask. Still, at the bottom of the page, my teacher scribbled “This story was inspired!” That baffled me. I asked her what it meant exactly, and she said it meant that the spirits had been whispering in my ear as I wrote it.
These days, many people ask me about inspiration. Where do you find your inspiration? they want to know.
Well, there’s often a romantic view of inspiration. In fact, inspiration and views are commonly linked. It’s those gasp-worthy vistas—craggy cliffs, foamy oceans, or an Irish castle looming above a windswept meadow—that are supposed to uncork a gush of gorgeous prose. Views like this one:
(Photo Credit: Anne Mazer)
My source of inspiration, however, is a little more lowbrow. Or as my husband likes to say about low-brow things, “It’s very Brooklyn” (mind you, he’s talking about the Mean Streets Brooklyn of our childhood).
For instance, here is the view that inspires me on a daily basis:
Poodle rumps. It’s what I am looking at when I take my walks. I have also been inspired by bullmastiff rumps, American bulldog rumps, and pit bull rumps. It’s not the rumps, so much, as the mysterious alchemy of walking and thinking. This is what most consistently stirs my imagination. I come up with a surprising amount of story ideas while walking my dogs. When I’m stuck, a walk unsticks me. When one of my characters seems flat, a walk plumps them up like a Sea Monkey. Maybe my inspiration is purely physiological. More oxygen to the brain.
Still, it is the view pictured below that inspires me on the grandest scale. It is what sends me into a fever of creativity. I can’t sleep. I scribble away for hours at a stretch, stopping only to refill my coffee cup and pop another Swedish Fish.
Oh yes. All hail the deadline. It inspires fear in my heart, which in turn inspires creativity in my soul. And that brings me back to those whispering spirits of Inspiration. I suspect that the spirit who whispers in my ear was born in Brooklyn. Walt Whitman? Arthur Miller? Nah. I’m guessing it’s the ghost of Al Capone (yes, Chicago, Capone was a Brooklyn baby). Because sometimes I swear I can hear the crack of someone’s hairy knuckles, and then a gravelly voice saying, “Listen, Sister, park your carcass in that chair and start writing, if youse knows what’s good for youse, see.”